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Top Car-Buying Apps

By: Tierney Brannigan December 19, 2016
Buying a new car can be as simple as downloading the right app.

Thanks to the convenience of mobile applications, the days of visiting car lots and dealing with pushy salespeople are over. You can now do most of your auto comparing and shopping whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you, as long as you have a smart phone.

We've tested some of the top car shopping apps available to help guide you toward an informed decision on which one to use. Once you decide which app best suits your needs, getting those new wheels out on the road is just a few finger taps away.

Edmunds

Overall, the Edmunds car-shopping app is equipped with all the specs a first-time buyer would need. The intuitive design takes much of the confusion (that often accompanies car buying) out of the equation.

Pros

  • Price calculator—Estimates how much your monthly buying or leasing payments would be, using your location to accurately populate the tax and interest fields.
  • Dealer locator—Provides you with a list of car dealers in your area, their hours, and customer reviews of specific dealerships.
  • Live help—Call, text, or e-mail the Edmunds team with your questions and concerns while using the app or buying a car and receive real-time responses.
  • Price Promise—With participating dealers, Edmunds guarantees you’ll pay the price you see online, without the hassle of haggling.
  • Notifications—Receive notifications on your phone, alerting you when:
    • The price of a car has dropped.
    • A car you’re interested in arrives on a nearby lot.
  • Car searchNumerous filters you can apply to find the car that best matches your budget and desired aesthetic.

Cons

  • Limited year filter—You can only search for cars built as far back as 1990; not the ideal car-buying app if you’re in search of older/vintage cars.
  • Overwhelming results—The Edmunds’ network allows the company to generate a huge amount of results, which can be helpful if you’re just browsing, but overwhelming if you don’t want to spend too long searching for a car.

No private sellers—All of the resulting cars can only be bought at dealerships or small auto-selling businesses. You won’t find individuals selling cars (think Craigslist), which yields an overall safer experience though it does also limit your options.

AutoTrader

The AutoTrader app may be better suited for you if you’ve bought and sold cars in the past. The app itself is relatively bare-boned, but a good option if you know exactly what you’re trying to buy.

Pros

  • Basic home page—The first thing you see when opening the app is a simple search form to get you started on your car-buying adventure, keeping you from getting sidetracked or overwhelmed with options.
  • Local dealerships—Get information about the hours and locations of car dealerships in your area, complete with testimonials from the dealers themselves.
  • Personal account—Create your own AutoTrader account to save searches and receive notifications when:
    • A car’s price drops.
    • New results match your car-buying inquiry.
  • Buying options—Equipped with a variety of filters to help narrow down your search, including the option to go through individual private sellers.

Cons

  • Difficult navigation—Once you’ve started a search, it’s inconvenient to navigate back and forth between different filters and screens.

Trade-in estimates—While this is a nice feature to have, when you’d like to get a Kelley Blue Book appraisal to trade in your vehicle, the app has to open a separate web browser page.

Cars.com

To put it simply, the Cars.com mobile app does it all. Whether you’re looking to buy, sell, research, or repair a car, this app provides numerous tools to help you get the job done. Once you’ve spent some time getting to know the Cars.com app, it’ll be a one-stop-shop for all your vehicle-related needs.

Pros

  • Create an accountSave your searched vehicles and receive notifications when the price on a specific car drops.
  • VIN scan—This feature allows you to find and return to the exact vehicle you’re interested in, whether you see it on the app or on the car lot.
  • Accommodating search options—Whether you’re just browsing or searching for a specific make and model, the intuitiveness of the search function makes finding the right car an easy task.
  • Dealer information—Find out the location and ratings on specific dealerships near you.
  • Variety of cars—The cars listed for sale on this app cover a wide spectrum, sure to suit your needs for:
    • New, used, or certified pre-owned vehicles.
    • Unique and vintage cars.
    • Cars bought from dealers or private, individual sellers.
  • On The Lot—This function allows you to compare the car you’re looking at (on the car lot) to nearby vehicles from other sellers.
  • Research Models—This tool provides you with expert reviews and the complete specs on new and used vehicle models.
  • Service & Repair—This option allows you to locate car repair services in your area, and provides you with price estimates for your vehicle maintenance.

Cons

  • Separate search for car specs—While looking at cars you’d like to buy, the specs (e.g. engine size, fuel efficiency, technological aspects, etc.) aren’t listed on the sales pages. Instead, you have to navigate to the Research Models tool, which is a separate entity within the app.
  • Limited payment calculator—Relative to the payment calculators on other car-buying apps, the Cars.com calculator is a bit limited. The tax and interest rates don’t auto-populate (based on your location) and there isn’t a leasing payment calculation
  • Advertisements—The ads on this app can make it feel a bit cluttered.

CarMax

The CarMax mobile app is great if you’re looking for a used car, but want the services and professionalism that come with buying a new car from a dealership. If you’re not familiar CarMax’s policies and processes, you can research how they choose and price the cars they sell.

Pros

  • Car comparisons—You can easily compare the prices and specs of different cars in a side-by-side format that’s easy to read.
  • CarMax locations—The app will automatically assign you a store/inventory based on your location and provide you with hours of operation, contact, and location information for all the CarMax dealers near you.
  • Helpful calculators—You can choose from a variety of calculators on the app to help determine:
    • Monthly payments on a vehicle.
    • The affordability of a car.
    • Vehicle title and registration.
    • Savings based on fuel efficiency.
  • Vehicle history reports—You can access the vehicle history reports on all of CarMax’s listings.
  • Create account—Creating an account will allow you to save searches and even make payments on the car you buy.
  • Detailed information—You’ll get expert reviews and a comprehensive overview of the specs on any vehicle you look at.
  • Holds and appointments—You can hold/reserve a car you’re interested in and schedule a test driving appointment at your local CarMax, all through the app.

Cons

  • Limited choices—You’re limited to the CarMax used car inventory, meaning if you don’t see what you like, you’ll have to look to another app/seller for options.
  • Search based on location—The basic search finds cars first based on your location, meaning your initial results could be reduced depending on where you’re using the app.

TrueCar

Much like the Kelley Blue Book app, TrueCar is helpful when it comes to researching the prices of cars you’re interested in. Before walking onto a dealership lot, you may consider using the TrueCar app as a base reference point when it comes to negotiating the price of your desired vehicle.

Pros

  • Simple design—The no-frills layout of this app makes the process of finding and researching cars as straightforward as possible.
  • Average price paid—You’ll be able to see the average price paid in your area for your desired vehicle, taking many cost-negotiating obstacles out of the way.
  • CarFax reportsAccess the CarFax reports on cars you’re interested in to make sure you don’t end up purchasing an unreliable vehicle.
  • Detailed vehicle specsExtensive reports on the specs for new and used cars.

Work directly with dealers—certified TrueCar dealers will try to accommodate all of your car-buying needs, possibly even going so far as to custom order a car for you.

Cons

  • Limited to certified dealers—When looking for a new car, your search query will be limited to certified TrueCar dealer inventories.
  • Glitchy—The app would run slow or be nonresponsive at times, which was frustrating after getting pretty far into a search and being forced to start over.
  • No vintage/older cars—The used car selection only allows you to look for cars dated as far back as 1997.
  • Dependent on dealer—Although the app provides you with the average price of your desired vehicle, you still need to wait for a dealer to contact you to find out the actual cost of the car.

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